Your student has been planning to attend college. Your student was excited about the prospect of attending college. Perhaps your student has already been accepted to college. Perhaps, it’s only a few weeks until your student leaves for college. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it can happen anytime during the college process. Your student is suddenly struck with second thoughts and decides she doesn’t want to go.
If your student has just announced that she doesn’t want to attend college after all, you may be dumbfounded. It was such a long hard process to apply and be accepted to college. What happened? What changed her mind? What do you do now?
Perhaps the first thing that you should do as a parent is to stop and take a breath — even before you say anything. Don’t panic. Postponing the college experiences may be a very good thing for your student — or it may not. Here are some things for you and your student to consider and discuss that might help both of you decide what to do next.
- Realize, and let your student know, that this is a very natural feeling and reaction. Many students, including those who head off to college anyway and have a wonderful experience, have moments of doubt and fear as college becomes closer. Your student is not alone.
- Recognize that, for your student, this fear is real. Don’t minimize her feelings. You’ll need to help your student think about her feelings and decide what to do, but right now, just validate her feelings and recognize that they are real. Going off to college is a big step, and it is natural to be nervous.
- You may need to do more listening than talking. Your student may need you most to be a sounding board as she thinks through her feelings and her options.
- Try to help your student understand and articulate her reasons for not wanting to go to school. Is this a general feeling or are there specific reasons? If your student can identify specific reasons, she may be able to come up with solutions that will help. She’ll also be able to determine whether the reasons are valid reasons for not attending school. For instance, if your student is undecided about a major or career, she may be fearful about going to school and declaring a major. You can help her understand that many students are undecided as they begin college and many others change their mind. There are many people at college who will be able to help her explore her interests and decide on a major.
- If you are close enough to the school, try to visit campus again to reinforce what she liked originally. If you are not close enough for a visit, encourage your student to relook at any materials she has received or to go back and explore the school’s website again. She may need to remind herself about why she liked the school in the first place.
- Remind your student to trust her original instinct. She liked this school enough to apply, or to accept the school’s offer of admission. That ”gut” feeling is often a good guide. Encourage her to trust it.
- Suggest that your student talk to other students who have attended the college — or who have attended any college. Let them share some of their experiences and advice. Hopefully your student will both realize that she is not alone and gain some confidence as she gathers advice that will help her.
- Encourage your student to continue to go through the process for now. She may feel differently in a few days or a few weeks.
- Finally, if your student still feels that she doesn’t want to go, don’t force the issue. More and more students are taking a gap year between high school and college. But do insist that she work with you to consider alternative options. Will she work for a year? Attend a different school? Look at a post-grad year? Take a Gap Year? As your student considers alternatives, she may realize that school is a better option after all.
- Work with the college to find out whether your student can defer her enrollment for a semester or a year. She doesn’t need to close the door completely. Many schools will hold a place for a student who decides to wait to enroll.
It is very natural for students to have second thoughts about attending college as the date to leave gets closer. Be patient with your student and try to help her to understand why she is reacting as she is. Help her to explore her feelings, her reasons, and her options. Remember, that even if she chooses not to attend college right now, she may feel very different by next semester or next year.